Police cannot have it both ways

HARARE - Police commisioner general Agustine Chihuri never misses a chance to praise the Zimbabwean police force glowingly each time a contingent returns home after completing a peacekeeping tour of duty abroad or somewhere in Africa.

He did so last week during the debriefing of 27 members of the police force  who had been on a peacekeeping mission in Liberia and eight others who had served in a similar capacity in  Sudan.

According to a report in the state daily, The Herald issue of October 19, Chihuri commended the law enforcement agents for flying the Zimbabwean flag high by “diligently executing  their duties through their contribution to the restructuring of the Sudanese police force..”

The Police commissioner general was particularly proud of two female officers who had worked so hard that their tour of duty had been extended by a further six months. This had been done on the recommendation of Sudanese officials who had been impressed by their professionalism and devotion to duty.

Normally, any group of Zimbabweans who fly the national flag high and put the country on the international map through good deeds and by projecting a humane face of the nation, should  make  their compatriots feel warm-hearted and proud.

It is a pity therefore that based on the terrible reputation and image of the Zimbabwe Republic Police at home, these glowing reports of exemplary performance and conduct in foreign countries are likely to be scoffed at and greeted with skepticism cynicism.

This is because there is a dichotomy between the benevolent and professional image officers deployed outside the country project and the merciless and  brutal one the police force is perceived to have at home.

One can hardly open a newspaper today without being confronted with headlines about the heavy-handed, confrontational, adversarial and indeed brutal methods the police use in executing their duties. In a random perusal of copies of old newspapers I came across the following headlines: “Police manhandle MP”, “Police ban Aids activists’  march”, “Woza Valentine’s protest disrupted by police”, “Police raid squatter camp”, “Police demolish homes in Epworth” etc.

An Internet search would yield even more numerous and horrifying stories.

What comes through in all these headlines is that the police would rather use heavy-handed and brutal tactics in dealing with the citizens of this country even when it would be easier, cheaper, more rational and more effective to carry out their duties professionally.

Numerous cases have been reported in the media of police brutality and overzealousness even in situations they should use to their maximum advantage for public relations promotion and projection of more acceptable image.    

This is not to open old wounds, but an example of how Chihuri’s officers exhibit their trigger-happy side was during the 2002 World Soccer qualifiers at the National Sports Stadium in Harare.

Thirteen  people were killed and scores were injured when police indiscriminately fired teargas into the crowd . This was after pandemonium broke out following a Bafana Bafana victory over the Zimbabwe Warriors.

By failing to keep cool heads and not using professional crowd control techniques on this occasion, police squandered a rare opportunity to win good will and admiration.

The global popularity of soccer and its power as a bridge-building force can never be doubted.

It is clear that the police are indifferent and unconcerned about how they are perceived by the masses at home, whom they are supposed to serve. Chihuri  may have provided a clue as to why this is so while speaking to a contingent of 18 officers leaving for Liberia to continue peacekeeping duties.

Last Friday’s Herald quoted the commissioner general as urging the officers to be loyal and respectful to Liberian citizens.

The tragedy is that this is something Chihuri never says with respect to police conduct at home and it raises the question of whether he considers the  citizens of other countries to be superior  and more deserving of humane treatment than Zimbabweans.  

It is time for the commissioner general to realise that charity begins at home and he should regularly be quoted in the media reminding his officers of the need to treat Zimbabweans as worthy human beings rather than third-rate  wretches in their own country. The police force cannot have it both ways, that is, a deceptively professional and humane approach abroad and a brutal and merciless one at home.

Ordinary people are constantly having to pick themselves up after being abused, degraded and having their rights trampled on by the police force.

But as opposed to the fighting talk the police chief regularly resorts to when warning of dire consequences over one issue or another, there is always deafening silence from him when ordinary Zimbabweans are tortured, killed, arbitrarily arrested or unfairly framed in politically-motivated prosecutions.

Why did the police chief have nothing to say, for example, after pictures and reports of police bulldozers razing homes to the ground in Epworth were published in the press last week? Have the police learnt no lessons since their involvement in the universally condemned Operation Murambatsvina in 2005?

That infamous clean-up exercise created a humanitarian crisis whose ramifications are still being felt by rendering hundreds of thousands of people homeless and destroying their livelihoods.

The authorities were criticised for embarking on this demolition spree without having an alternative plan to cater for the victims.

They cruelly exposed hundreds of thousands of people to the elements by swooping on them in the middle of winter. The victims included women, children, the chronically ill and the elderly.

That sadistic streak has once again been  displayed with regard to the Epworth raids in that human beings have been left in the open like animals just as the rainy season is beginning.

The bulldozing of their homes made it impossible for them to salvage any materials with which to put up new shelters.
Commissioner general Chihuri, no amount of good work done by the relatively few officers who go on tours of duty to other countries can erase the evils that the rest of the force gets up to at home.
When will you speak up against these misdeeds? - Mary Revesai

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